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REPORT: Just 10% of Americans elected a supermajority of Congress

A new report from the Unite America Institute, about the Primary Problem breaks down the issue of partisanship and polarization in our election system

Brett Maney
Sr. Communications Manager
March 30, 2021

New report from the Unite America Institute describes how partisan primaries are a “Primary Problem” driving division and dysfunction in our political system

DENVER, CO -- The Unite America Institute released a new report today diagnosing the Primary Problem fueling polarization in our politics: partisan primaries. 

The report highlights the ramifications of our low-turnout partisan primary system: our elected leaders are incentivized to answer only to the base of their party rather than solve problems in the broader public interest. 

An analysis of 2020 voter turnout in all 435 U.S. House primaries found that despite record turnout in the general election, a supermajority of Congressional races (83%) were effectively decided in the primary election months earlier by just 10% of eligible voters nationwide. 

“The data is clear: partisan primaries disenfranchise voters, distort representation, and fuel division in our politics,” said Nick Troiano, Executive Director of Unite America. “In the wake of one of the most politically divisive moments in this country’s history, we have to find a new way forward.”

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In 2020, eight Congressional incumbents lost their election in partisan primaries, up from four in 2018 –– and nearly all lost to challengers who are more ideologically extreme. 

A case study presented in the report highlights former Rep. Scott Tipton, who was primaried by current Rep. Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s third district. The report finds that Boebert was effectively elected in a primary that attracted just 19% of eligible voters in the district. In addition, according to a new post-election survey conducted by Citizen Data, Republican primary voters were more than twice as likely to identify as “very conservative” (60%) than general election voters (25%).  

Watch a 3 minute video that breaks down the Primary Problem

The report describes how election reform can help solve the Primary Problem by replacing both party’s primaries with a single, nonpartisan primary in which all candidates and all voters can participate. 

In November, Alaska became the first state to adopt top-four nonpartisan primaries combined with a general election that utilizes ranked choice voting to ensure a majority winner, known as Final-Four Voting. The report notes that states with nonpartisan primaries have seen more electoral competition, higher rates of voter participation, and less polarizing representatives. California, Nebraska, and Washington currently use top-two nonpartisan primaries.

“Nonpartisan primaries have the potential not only to liberate our elected leaders to put country over party, but also level the playing field for new competition,” said Troiano.